Guest column/Let’s stop opioids from claiming another generation

Opioid abuse is one of the greatest challenges facing our state and nation.

Lives are cut short every day. Whether by heroin or prescription painkillers, opioids do not discriminate. These senseless deaths occur across all segments of the population.

Youth are particularly at risk, as they may not fully realize the dangers of pills often assumed to be “safe” on the basis that they are prescribed by a medical professional.

My office is dedicated to turning the tide, staying on the front lines and using every tool at our disposal to prevent today’s children from becoming tomorrow’s addicted adults. Our programs are reaching tens of thousands. Middle school presentations, football games, design contests and faith conferences send a simple message: Prevention is key.

Most recently, our collaboration with three universities helped us reach more than 4,600 students in mere months.

Future health professionals studying at West Virginia University’s Schools of Nursing and Pharmacy, Marshall University’s School of Nursing and Shepherd University’s Department of Nursing Education visited 27 middle schools throughout the state. They educated eighth grade students on the dangers associated with prescription painkillers, illustrating how a pill from a doctor is not far removed from heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil.

That means 4,600 young minds were instilled with information that could potentially save their lives.

That means 4,600 adolescents are now aware of the fatal consequences of opioid abuse; it’s 4,600 opportunities to reduce the state’s ever-increasing overdose death toll.

The eighth-grade program received positive feedback from numerous teachers, principals and guidance counselors. Students were actively engaged in the presentations, asking questions and sharing personal stories.

In every class, someone knew a friend or family member battling addiction. In fact, many students indicated they had already been prescribed an opioid by a doctor, and one school administrator said staff used naloxone to revive a student.

That stark reality underscores the need to reach this generation – one growing up in a society saturated with drugs.

We have reached even more people by engaging student athletes, coaches, administrators and fans at more than 100 high school football games. Our games of the week initiative raises awareness and informs yet another audience as to the dangers of opioid painkillers.

Very soon our office will kick off its second Kids Kick Opioids design contest, which encourages students to create a public service announcement. Last year’s winning design shared the heart-wrenching experience of how one child has missed her father every day since his fatal overdose.

Her story touched even more hearts and minds this year as we launched the Combating Addiction with Grace initiative, a faith-based approach to tackling substance abuse in communities across the Mountain State.

These efforts ignite hope in a brighter tomorrow.

Young students are increasingly aware of the risks and can influence their peers in a positive way.

Through education and prevention, we can stop opioid abuse from devastating communities, tearing apart families and taking another generation of West Virginians.

We feel so strongly about prevention that it’s at the heart of our push for insurance providers to review policies and offer incentives for non-opioid pain management techniques.

We also have engaged prescribers and dispensers with a similar challenge in pushing our best practices toolkit, widely endorsed for encouraging safer and more effective ways to treat and manage pain.

As a new year dawns, so does renewed hope that our fight against addiction reaches more people of all ages and backgrounds so West Virginia can reach her full potential.

(Morrisey is the attorney general of West Virginia.)

COMMENTS